LAS VEGAS – As rodeo relates to other sports, it’s hard to put a comparison for bareback riders.
Sure, steer wrestlers are the linebackers of football, and tie-down ropers are akin to 3-point shooters in basketball, but bareback riders?
“I think it is every sport of a major athlete combined into one,” said Pope, who rode Muddy Creek Pro Rodeo’s Pejuta Haka for 87 points to finish in a three-way tie for second place in Thursday’s eighth go-round. “Everything about this is different. It is all fast, explosive stuff. You’ve got to be flexed out while you’re trying to explode while taking shots in the back of the head like a boxer.
“You have to be agile. You have to be able to keep ahold of (the horses) and track then where they are going like you’re in baseball, but then you have to be able to take a hit like a football, too. I think you combine all of them together, and that’s how you get a bareback rider.”
It’s also similar to a 98-pound wrestler grappling the biggest guy on the opposing team.
“I think it’s pretty comparable,” he said. “They outweigh us by four or five times.”
Pope may be the lightweight in the match-ups, but he’s playing his game like a heavyweight champion. His ride Thursday netted him another $17,410 and pushed his Las Vegas earnings to nearly $150,000. He is the king of the bareback riding mountain with two nights remaining on the 2022 season. He has earned $308,387 so far and owns a lead of more than $66,000 over the No. 2 man, Texan Leighton Berry.
He is also No. 1 in the NFR aggregate race with 693 cumulative points on eight rides. As a two-time average champion in his only other trips to the finale, he understands just how special that title is. In ProRodeo, it is the second-most cherished prize behind the world championship.
Whatever he earns, he knows he has a great team to make it all happen.
“It takes a village to be able to rodeo,” said Pope, 24, of Waverly, Kansas. “To be able to have such a big support system – it is people to talk to for encouragement and everything – it gives a guy confidence and makes you feel a hell of a lot better to know you have all those people in your corner.
“It’s a long 10 days. It’s hard. It’s easy to get something put in your brain and make things look negatively, so it’s nice to be able to talk to people that are always building you up.”
That support system also includes handling the chores back home. Friends help, but his younger brothers, Ty and Judd, flew back home to take care of everything before returning Thursday; a sponsor, the Graham family from Garnett, Kansas, also helped with the ranching tasks.
“We’ve got cows and horses and dogs and everything else at home that need to be tended to,” he said. “Without them, it would be a heck of a lot harder to be out here.”
He’s also received support from his fiancé, Sydney Odle, whom he will marry in May. She’s been a driving force behind a lot of his success this year, especially the last couple of weeks.
“She’s always in my corner, and she always has something to say,” Pope said. “She is always building me up. She is really competitive. One thing I’m really thankful for is she ain’t scared to lead a prayer before I leave the hotel room, before I get on and everything else. Without her, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today.”